Why race?

One time, I was in a cab in NYC on the way to the airport and trapped in the middle of the New York Marathon.

It was about 3 hours into the race, and getting out of downtown was proving to be a nightmare for my cab driver. He was neither culturally attuned nor sympathetic to this whole marathon business. Stuck at one intersection as some 4:30-pacers ambled through he burst out, "Why are they still running? the race is over! They lost!"

I didn't bother trying to explain. I wanted to make my flight.

One has to admit, though, that from outside the bubble inhabited by dedicated amateur athletes (cyclists, runners, triathletes) it does look a bit pointless. We aren't elite athletes, most of us will never win a thing (OK actually some of the DH Flyers guys seem to win regularly). And yet we will dedicate a lot of money and hours and effort to training... for what? Not for our health, we're way past that (though the great marks for cardiovascular at annual checkups is a nice side benefit). Not for the social aspect (though it's comforting to know there are other nuts like oneself out there).

As my pal (and cycling guru/Dark Horse stalwart) Michael says, in the end we're just racing ourselves. Which is true. Exploring the outer edges of one's own physical capabilities is undeniably, weirdly satisfying. (Otherwise Strava wouldn't have such a hot business model.) And nothing pushes you to that edge like racing.

But I think there is something else to it.

In my best race ever, the Niagara Duathlon, in 1993, I came in 16 minutes behind the winner, Mike Buck, a guy who regularly challenged later Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield. When I was a kid I learned to play the piano; not a prodigy by any stretch, but I got to about grade 9 which meant I played some stuff that real professional pianists played on recordings. A few years ago I played in a charity hockey tournament that features a bunch of ex-NHLers. I had the pleasure of being casually turned inside out on a rush by the great Borje Salming, and was later set up for a goal with the best pass I've ever got in my life from Stew Gavin, a former Leafs winger from the 1980s.

"Bingham: Swedish for pylon."
What all that stuff did was give me a little glimpse into what it must be like to be exceptional. To have the magic combination of genes and talent and circumstance and long, hard work that conspires to make somebody extremely good at something. By getting that close to Mike Buck, by playing the same Bach Prelude as Glenn Gould, by being on the same ice as Borje Salming I got a visceral understanding what exceptional really is.

Being in touch with that is pretty cool, in my opinion.

"Hmmm hmm-hmm,  hmm-dahdeh..."
Tell a civilian that Bradley Wiggins rode the ITT of last year's Tour de France at an average speed of 50 kph over 53 kms and they might ask whether that was good or not. To a cyclist, that is an almost inconceivable, mind-blowing achievement. With a good lead-out and a tail-wind I can hit 50 kph for maybe 100 metres, on a good day. So when I ride a race and manage a 32 kph average speed, I get a very deep understanding of how amazing real pros are.

I can't catch him; but, 4th from last in my crappy little Masters Cat 3 race in a cycling backwater like Canada, I can see Bradley Wiggins on the horizon.

Why race? That's why.

Definitely not worried that I'm gaining on him.


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